A look at the potential impact: North Dakota prepares to vote on recreational marijuana

FILE - Marijuana plants for the adult recreational market are seen in a greenhouse
FILE - Marijuana plants for the adult recreational market are seen in a greenhouse(Mary Altaffer | AP)
Published: Nov. 7, 2022 at 4:09 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - North Dakota voters are deciding whether to legalize recreational marijuana Tuesday in an initiative called Measure 2. This comes after North Dakota legalized medical marijuana in 2016, failed to legalize recreational marijuana in 2018, and decriminalized marijuana in 2019. Measure 2 is based on legislation that passed the North Dakota House but failed in the state Senate last year. The campaign manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, Jared Moffat, says he expects the 2022 vote to be close.

Advocates claim marijuana legalization could reduce crime, stimulate the economy and improve public health as folks use the drug as pain relief over opioids. On the other hand, critics contend legalization could increase crime and diminish public safety, harm public health, and require more addiction resources. But some say the impact may fall somewhere in the middle.

Shane Weber produces hemp in western North Dakota. Hemp is related to marijuana, but it is high in CBD and low in THC, so it is legal. He says he’d like to add marijuana to his farm if it becomes legal.

“We’re already set up for that plant as well, so it would be an easy transition. Hopefully, the licenses don’t get too expensive. That would be the main hindrance for us,” said Shane Weber, owner of Badlands Hemp.

His hemp production is currently guided by the Department of Agriculture. While oversight of marijuana plants would likely shift to another state department, Shane Weber says the overall changes he’d have to make would be small, like sourcing the right seeds. Though the changes wouldn’t be that small for other farmers.

“I think it would be a big transition for a lot of farmers just because they have the tractors and big equipment. When you’re doing it the way we’re doing it, it’s a lot of doing the work by hand,” said Weber.

If this plant makes its way from the fields to the community, many wonder what the impact will be on community safety. Now, deputies say no one is in the Burleigh Morton County Detention Center on marijuana charges alone.

“It is extremely rare for someone to end up within the detention center for solely marijuana-related charges,” said Maj. Trent Wangen, Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department.

Maj. Trent Wangen says nothing should change in the facility, but they’d likely update training for street officers.

“Some states have shown an increase in driving under the influence arrests for narcotic-related, or drug-related, DUI arrests and that could have an impact on us, but we wouldn’t know until we get data if that would happen,” added Maj. Wangen.

Those already in custody with marijuana charges would still face prosecution unless the court system retroactively dismisses the charges.

Lawmakers would also have decisions to make.

“We’d coordinate with other states to see how they’ve handled the tax situation, but really that’s a question for lawmakers,” said Brian Kroshus, tax commissioner for North Dakota.

Medical marijuana is taxed at a 5% sales and use rate which generates between 1.5 and 2 million dollars per year. Unless lawmakers decide otherwise, recreational marijuana could also be taxed at that rate. Tax Commissioner Brian Kroshus says this wouldn’t necessarily mean North Dakota coffers would fill.

“The one thing is, what will the net revenue impact be? Because it doesn’t generate additional household income if the measure passes. So really what happens is it becomes a shift from one taxable area to another taxable area,” added Kroshus.

He says the measure could create employment and retail opportunities in the state.

If approved, Measure 2 would allow adults 21 and over to possess a limited amount of marijuana and cultivate up to three plants in a residence. The measure would also provide limitations and penalties relating to use.

Voters in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri and South Dakota are also voting on recreational marijuana this election. 19 other states and Washington D.C. have already legalized cannabis for personal use. Federally, marijuana remains illegal.